View Full Version : lenses, the best of best

Veríssimo Dias
28-Dec-2005, 15:00
Hi all
I'd like to hear from all of you about the "best of best lens" you ever used with your large format camera (4x5; 5x7; 5x10).

If possible share with me the "Best of Best".

But feel free also (if you prefer) tell me your opinion about "the best of best in Wide-angle lenses"; “the best oh best normal lens" or the "best of best tele lens".

What reasons for your choice?

I wish you a happy New Year.

Michael Graves
28-Dec-2005, 15:37
My favorite lenses that I've used are Fujinons. I own a 210W and a 300W and I love the results I get from them. But I've always wanted to try a Goerz Dagor and one of the new Super Symmars. Unfortunately my pocketbook isn't that deep.

Walt Calahan
28-Dec-2005, 15:39
Cooke Optics XVa

Eric Leppanen
28-Dec-2005, 16:06
I shoot 4x5 and 8x10 in order to make big enlargements (40x50 inches) using both chrome and B&W film. With this goal in mind, here is my "best of the best" list, assuming price is not an object!


Ultra wide: SA58XL (the Grandagon 55 reportedly has better MTF performance, but the SA shares a common center filter with the 80 and 110 SSXL's)

Wide: Super Symmar XL 80 and 110 (sharp, lightweight, ample coverage, good flare resistance)

Normal: APO Sironar-S 150 (lightweight, sharp, ample coverage)

Moderate long: Fuji 240A (ultra light, sharpest lens I've ever used, both close-up and at infinity. Amazing!)

Medium long: Fuji 450C (perhaps not as sharp close-up as a plasmat, but just as sharp at infinity)

Long: Fuji 600C (sharper than the Nikkor or Fuji telephoto's, although I prefer the APO Tele Xenar listed below on a larger camera whenever possible)


Ultra wide: SS110XL (only modern lens available this wide which covers)

Wide: Super Symmar XL 150 and 210 (the SS210XL is a beast, but I use 8x10 only on short hikes anyway)

Normal: 300 and 360 APO Sironar-S (sharp, contrasty image, reportedly excellent bokeh)

Medium long: APO Symmar-L 480 (better close-up performance than the Fuji 450C)

Long: APO Tele Xenar 600/800 convertible (sharper than the Nikkor or Fuji telephotos, albeit must be used with a 5x7 or larger camera)

Honorable mention: Cooke Series XVa 311/476/646 convertible (compact 8x10 travel/hiking lens. Best flare resistance of any lens I've used, dual cell configuration (311mm) as sharp as my Sironar-S's at any focus distance, single cell configurations (476/646) slightly less sharp at high magnification but still produce a gorgeous image)

If you haven't already, see also Kerry Thalmann's list of Future Classics:


Christopher Perez
28-Dec-2005, 17:15
The very best lens I own is the tripod.

No, I'm not being wierd or strange in saying this. What I mean is that a tripod is what makes any lens sharp. It's what allows me to say that an early 1940's 183mm f/18 Bausch and Lomb Series V Protar(coated) is as sharp under normal B&W working conditions as the latest super 200mm/210mm APO-whatever at f/22. It also allows me to say that a 1960's Schneider 90mm Angulon f/6.8 is just as sharp (within it's specified field of view) as the super marvelous 110mm Super Symmar XL f/5.6. All the way to the edges of a 4x5 frame.

OK, so you want to spend boatloads of money? Yes, modern lenses are wonders of technology. Their shutters are more reliable than the old stuff. And you get the warm and fuzzy feeling that there's nothing better on the planet, even if you can't actually prove it. Using this criteria I like the following modern lenses for 4x5 work:

Docter Optic 150mm f/9 Germinar W, 300mm f/9 APO Germinar (both rare and hard to find in modern shutters, and there are other lenses that I'd like to try since these are so small, light, and brilliantly sharp)

Schneider 110SSXL, 210 APO Symmar

Rodenstock 150APO Sironar-S, and I suspect I'll really like the 75mm f/6.8 Grandagon which I'll get to try shortly

Nikkor 200M f/8, 300M f/9

ANYTHING Fuji ever made for LF, including 135W/EBC f/5.6, 150W/EBC f/5.6, 240A/EBC, 450C f/12.5, and a whole laundry list of wonderful lenses that they've made over the past 20 years.

But to be absolutely honest, there is no such thing as "the best" when talking about modern lenses. All are more capable of producing extremely fine images than most of us are in "seeing" and creating an image.



John Layton
28-Dec-2005, 17:50
Last Generation (Kern Swizerland) 14" Goerz Blue-Dot Trigor - equally amazing for 4X5, 8X10, and 11X14. But for 4X5, just make sure the camera is solid enough to take full advantage of this lens' amazing performance!

Oren Grad
28-Dec-2005, 18:27
For general-purpose use, Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S, in any focal length. Why? Rodenstock's particular twist on the modern plasmat delivers an ultra-refined look overall, a harmonious balance of contrast and resolution combined with a rendering of out-of-focus backgrounds that is smoother and, to my subjective taste, more pleasing than that produced by the competing modern plasmat series from other vendors.

I don't have a strong preference in wide-angle designs. The Grandagons I own (75/6.8, 90/6.8 and 155/6.8) are very competent lenses, but don't quite have the magic of the Apo-Sironar-N and -S. I don't lose any sleep over it because I don't use wide-angle types very much.

I've never used a telephoto design.

28-Dec-2005, 18:41
I also have a 14" blue dot Trigor. I Even use it on my 8x20 and it is an amazing little lens.

Frank Petronio
28-Dec-2005, 19:31
The 90/4.5 Rodenstock Grandagon-N always impressed me. I suspect any of the Sironar-S series would also be great.

My Leica 35/1.4 ASPH was the best little lens - so good it almost tempts me back to using 35mm. And I really miss my Hasselblad Zeiss lenses, especially the 100 and 120 CFs.

David K.
28-Dec-2005, 20:38
I am fortunate to have many state of the art lenses, but my favourite is no longer made,,,,,the 120 Super Symmar. An excellent lens with just the right field of view for 4x5 landscape work.

Jim Galli
28-Dec-2005, 20:49
Best is far too broad a category. I have upwards of 150 LF lenses. Best for a soft portrait might be an old brass lens I robbed off an ancient projector. You need to define what it is you want before you can narrow the field to bests. Give me the right picture elements and I'll make a picture people will enjoy looking at and do it with an old magnifying glass. Sharpness isn't everything, and in fact isn't really very important in the big scheme of things.

Pressed to pick the 5 I would never EVER sell, I might choose my Cooke Series XV (1947 vintage coated), my 355mm f8 Kern / Schneider Dagor, my 225mm Dagor type G-Claron, my 13" Pinkham & Smith Series IV, and perhaps my 22" Voigtlander Petzval. Those all do different types of work for me but have proven most satisfactory in what they do best.

Brian Ellis
28-Dec-2005, 21:00
wide angle - 80mm Schneider Super Symmar Xl, because it's small and light.

normal - 135mm Rodenstock APO Sironar S and 150mm Schneider G Claron, both are small and light.

long - Nikkor 300M, because it's small and light.

Lars Ĺke Vinberg
28-Dec-2005, 21:12
Schneider 150 SSXL is just amazing. Sharp and contrasty if you like that.
Schneider Apo-Symmar 240, again sharp and contrasty, plus a joy to focus.
Apo-Ronar 480: very pleasant lower-contrast but knife-sharp rendering.
Haven't used the XVa much yet.

Re Frank's comments on Zeiss, check out their website. Some product release on its way.

Steve Clark
28-Dec-2005, 21:16
The Apo-Ronars get overlooked all too often...fine lenses

29-Dec-2005, 00:13
300mm Apo-Lanthar (4x5, 8x10),
150mm Schneider Symmar,
240mm Golden Dagor (4x5, 8x10),
65mm Super Angulon,
360mm Rodenstock Apo Ronar (14x17)

All older lenses, however they are much better at producing sharp contrasty images than I can.


29-Dec-2005, 03:20
My favorites thus far:

Rodenstock 90mm/4.5 Grandagon-N
Rodenstock 120mm/5.6 Macro Symmar HM
Docter Optic 240mm/9 APO Germinar

Just ordered the Cooke Portrait PS945 229mm/4.5 from Badger and I'll bet it will be at the top of my list after I get to play with it for a day or two.

Nick Morris
29-Dec-2005, 05:23
203mm 7.7 Ektar; 100mm & 135mm WF Ektars; 13" Wollensak Series 1A Triple Raptar & Velostigmat (coated & uncoated); 9 1/2" Dagor; 8 1/4" Dagor; 16" Wollensak Series 1A Triple Raptar.

Scott Davis
29-Dec-2005, 08:35
14" Commercial Ektar f6.3 for an 8x10. produces the most amazing portraits... amazing Bokeh (oofas if you prefer - Out Of Focus Areas). It produces a really clean break-point between sharp and unsharp, but the unsharp is never harsh. It works on anything from a 4x5 to an 11x14.

Bob Fowler
29-Dec-2005, 08:46
As has already been said, "best" is a relative and quite personal term.

I have a boat load, but here are some of my favorites - or at least most often used:

14" Red Dot Artar for 5X7, 210mm f/f.5 Sironar-N for 4X5, 90mm f/8 Ilex-Calumet Wide Field Caltar for 4X5 (sometimes 5X7), 14" Commercial Ektar for 8X10, and last but not least - B&L Rapid Rectilinear lenses (they have a great "look" for portraiture).

Ken Lee
29-Dec-2005, 09:03
I agree with what Christopher Perez says about older lenses.


My favorite lens design is over 50 years old, and I'm not sure that anyone will be
able to improve on it. I take a pair of them along, whenever I go out shooting.

Varakan Ten Tipprapa
29-Dec-2005, 09:14
The best lens for me is the most lens I've used.. That why is the best lens... almost 85% of all shots I use 150mm. ... Schneider 150/5.6 APO Symmar

29-Dec-2005, 10:28
"It's what allows me to say that an early 1940's 183mm f/18 Bausch and Lomb Series V Protar(coated) is as sharp under normal B&W working conditions as the latest super 200mm/210mm APO-whatever at f/22."

off axis or just on axis?

at what range of magnifications?

if you only use the center of a lens's coverage, only use its best aperture and stay near its optimum magnifiction, then there's little reason to spend more than one or two hundred bucks on a lens. it's outside this little performance cocoon where lenses have improved a lot in recent decades.

Richard Schlesinger
29-Dec-2005, 10:39
Ken, what kind of mascara do you use?

David Richhart
29-Dec-2005, 10:48
I really really really REALLY like my Kodaks. The 14" Commercial Ektar for when I'm shooting portraits, and my 10" WF Ektar for when I'm not.
Besides... carrying 2 of those old #5 shutters around keeps the camera bag from blowing away...

29-Dec-2005, 11:02
I'm with Varakan: what gets used most is the 'best'. That would be the old G-Claron 240mm.

Ken Lee
29-Dec-2005, 11:07
Ken, what kind of mascara do you use?

I wish I could take a pair of those lenses with me - along with the rest of the model - but I'm stuck with the ones I was born with.

Ole Tjugen
29-Dec-2005, 12:00
90mm f:8 Super-Angulon on 4x5 and 5x7".

121mm f:8 Super-Angulon on 5x7" and 18x24cm, or 121mm f:6.8 leitmeyr Weitwinkel-Anastigmat on 4x5" and 5x7".

135mm f:3.5 Zeiss Planar on 4x5" and 9x12cm.

150mm f:4.5 APO-Lanthar on 4x5, or 165mm f:6.8 Angulon on 5x7" and 18x24cm.

240mm Symmar f:5.6 on 4x5", 5x7" and 18x24cm.

210mm f:6.8 (1947 vintage) on 18x24cm and 30x40cm; the newer ones won't cover the 30x40cm.

Any other lens I can lay my hands on. They're all sharp, and all better than I deserve.

Christopher Perez
29-Dec-2005, 15:21
paulr writes/quotes:
"It's what allows me to say that an early 1940's 183mm f/18 Bausch and Lomb Series V Protar(coated) is as sharp under normal B&W working conditions as the latest super 200mm/210mm APO-whatever at f/22."

off axis or just on axis?

at what range of magnifications?

For 4x5 work, the 183 Bausch and Lomb Series V Protar I mentioned has nearly unlimited rise and fall. It lights up 11x14 and is reputedly sharp enough for contact print work at f/45 on that format.

Coming back to 4x5 for a moment, the Protar looks good all across the field and holds an image together nicely with significant rise to the limits of a 200mm Nikkor M image area.

You're right, if you shoot at just one or two aperture settings, then old lenses work very well indeed. Shockingly well in my case. I did a side by side real world image comparison (since some people have heart burn about "believing" there is any value in USAF resolution test charts). At 40x enlargement I can begin to see differences in image quality (sharpness and contrast) between an uncoated Protar V and the Nikkor 200M at f/22. But the coated Protar hangs in there to the point that differences between it and the Nikkor are really only noticable at 160x.

I am a creature of habit and shoot around f/16 to f/22. So using wider apertures isn't a huge issue for me. Some of the new lenses are indeed better at wider apertures than the old stuff. But have you ever shoot an early 1950's Schneider Xenotar f/2.8 or a Zeiss Planar f/2.8 on 120 format at wide apertures? Yikes! They're good. Real good.

John Z.
29-Dec-2005, 16:16
Question for Ole; what brand is your 210mm f6.8 vintage lens with the big coverage? I am looking for a 210 lens to cover 11x14. Thanks.

30-Dec-2005, 01:04
I do agree with Christopher that the tripod can be more important than the lens (but the magic wand that stops the wind from blowing is more important still).

I only have a couple of lenses. The striking thing I notice is that with both of them, the difference betwee the sharpest negatives I make and the average ones is huge. This tells me that only occasionally am I getting the full benefit of all that optical wizardry. Most of the time the lens is compromised by the usual suspects: inability to get everything important in the focal plane (big problem doing the urban stuff that I do), diffraction, and things blowing in the wind (the big tripod helps, but it doesn't stop the trees and grass from blowing around!).

Ole Tjugen
30-Dec-2005, 04:15
Answer to John: I must have forgotten to write it - it's another Schneider Angulon.

The good Angulons are surprisingly good; the "bad" ones (often the result of lens elements having shifted - only the outer elements are fixed to the barrel) can be surprisingly bad. All the Angulons I have or have had have been good.

david, Kwon
27-Jan-2006, 08:49
I am a Newbie of LF world. and I just bougt Toyo 810m2 & nikkor 120 sw, apo-symmar 240, nikkor 600/800 ED T lens about 2month ago.
I just have take less than 3 box of slide fim, but I am very happy with my camera & lens so far :-)
but there is some light fall problem with nikkor 120 sw, does anyone know how cai i solve it?